Benghazi Investigators Playing Old Tune on a New Kazoo

In the latest phase of the longest show trial since the 1930s, the House Select Committee on Benghazi! is conducting a closed-door deposition of journalist and Clinton family friend Sid Blumenthal tomorrow. This will presumably be an appetizer and pump-primer for the future interrogation of Hillary Clinton herself, and will focus on the allegedly strange communications between Blumenthal and HRC about Libya. The broader context in which to view it is as an effort to find one more instrument–perhaps a kazoo–in which to play the committee’s same old tune.

The premise of this particular inquisition–that it’s inappropriate for high-level public officials to use journalists as sounding-boards and informal intel-gatherers is debatable. But it’s hardly an unprecedented activity. Francis P. Blair, the editor of the Washington Globe, was a member of Andrew Jackson’s informal “kitchen cabinet.” And Blair eventually served as Abraham Lincoln’s secret emissary to Robert E. Lee just before the Civil War broke out. Lincoln was notorious for his informal relationship with journalists. So, too, was Teddy Roosevelt; Doris Kearns Goodwin recently published an entire book with this as a major theme: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.

John F. Kennedy was another distinguished president known for his personal relationships with journalists, notably the Washington Post‘s Ben Bradlee. And during the most dramatic juncture of his presidency, the Cuban Missile Crisis, ABC News diplomatic correspondent John Scali became a secret emissary between Soviet and U.S. officials, helping avoid nuclear war.

If the Benghazi investigators try to pretend that Blumenthal’s relationship with Clinton was inherently problematic, they’ve got a lot of history to forget. But as with every other aspect of this inquisition, the search for anything other than innuendo is likely to go nowhere but to the next verse of the song that truly never ends.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.